The Awake Series Finale Turns Our Brains to Turtle Soup
Warning! If you haven’t seen the Awake series finale, there are spoilers ahead!
In art class, mixing red and green makes a grayish brown. With light, the two colors form yellow. In Awake, when you take components of two alternate realities — one green and one red — everything goes white. And rubber band-less.
While some viewers may wonder if the oddly satisfying conclusion to the series was a result of the show’s recent cancellation, showrunner Kyle Killen assured followers onTwitter the finale, “Turtles All the Way Down,” would have been “exactly the same” if it had been renewed for a second season.
Before the finale aired, Killen and Jason Isaacs spoke withEntertainment Weekly, and Isaacs revealed, “One of those worlds is a dream.” But that doesn’t mean the whole thing was. When a follower onTwitter asked Killen if he was concerned viewers would misinterpret the ending as the whole show being a dream, he replied, “I am now.” Instead, during a live chat withEW, Killen thought a reader captured it perfectly when she said, “Britten questions the rules of reality and makes his own.”
In a way, Britten (Isaacs) inventing his own third, Utopian world makes the ending of the series lovely. Britten is reunited with his entire family, damn the consequences for his fragile psyche. We don’t have to wonder what it would all mean for Season 2; we can just stay bathed in that perfect, white light, hearing Britten’s final words: “I’m perfect.”
But where would the fun be in that? While that last image was emotionally satisfying, our somewhat-melted brains are still hung up on Vega (Wilmer Valderrama) in that penguin suit and that long hallway shot of Britten with Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones) and Dr. Lee (BD Wong) on either side, arguing like an angel and a devil sitting on his shoulders.
As the laws of the red world broke down and everything got immensely easier in the green — the mysteries and problems in the latter were wrapped up with an almost wish-fulfillment-like quickness — we’re left to wonder which world actually was the dream.
Perhaps Dr. Lee had it right all along. Blood loss and a fractured psyche caused Britten’s hallucinations in the red world. After all, that same remote control feature penguin Vega used to show Harper (Laura Innes) killing Kessel (Mark Harelik) showed up at the end in the green world. As sad as it would be that he didn’t get a spotlighted moment with Rex (Dylan Minnette) like he did with Hannah (Laura Allen), it’s not as if he couldn’t make up for it in the white world.
If you aren’t familiar with the phrase “turtles all the way down,” Dr. Evans’s remark to Britten — and the title of the episode — may not seem all that important. In his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking attributes the story to a well-known scientist (possibly Bertrand Russell) who spoke with an elderly lady after an astronomy lecture. She took issue with some of the facts he presented, saying that the world is actually a flat plate resting on the back of a tortoise.” When the scientist asks her what the tortoise is standing on, she replies that “it’s turtles all the way down.”
“All the way down to what?” is of course the logical question. We’re still not quite sure what world is the center of Britten’s reality. At its core, Awake is about a devastated, fractured man who is coping with the tragic loss of either his son or his wife. While we leave him in a happy moment, had Awake stretched into Season 2, we could’ve easily found him at his lowest — perhaps he created all these worlds to cope with the fact that he was the sole survivor of the car crash.